AALEP is actively engaged in the promotion of skills necessary to foster public participation and to become reliable, professional advocates in emerging countries.

Public participation is a political principle or practice, and may also be recognized as a right (right to public participation). The term public participation may be used interchangeably with the concept or practice of stakeholder engagement and/or popular participation.

Generally public participation seeks and facilitates the involvement of those potentially affected by or interested in a decision. The principle of public participation holds that those who are affected by a decision have a right to be involved in the decision-making process. Public participation implies that the public's contribution will influence the decision. Public participation in shaping and implementing public policies is regarded as a critical ingredient of participatory democracy. It is not to to replace representative democracy, which is based on a separation of powers, multi-party system and free elections, but rather to supplement it and make it better functioning. To that end, public participation serves several functions:

(1) It provides an opportunity and create conditions necessary for citizens to engage in political life regularly and not only during elections;

(2) It creates a framework for citizens to advocate for their legitimate interests and thus contribute to the development of a vibrant democratic society;

(3) It makes the work of public authorities more transparent and closer to their constituencies;

(4) It contributes to the quality of adopted public policy and its smooth implementation;

(5) If all stakeholders participate in the process, their legitimate interests will be presumably be protected and the costs of implementation of such policy will be reduced, as they will be less inclined to resort to judiciary and other remedies to protect their interests. Citizens are more inclined to embrace public policy, if they have an opportunity to participate in the proces of its shaping, even if the proposals are not favourably met.

(6) It facilitates Civil Society Organizations (CSOs') watchdog role in the implementation of adopted policies. CSOs play a twofold role in this process. On the one hand, CSOs are a suitable institutional tool, which facilitates citizen participation in public policy. They allow citizens to organize themselves and express and advocate for their legitimate interests more effectively as well as making the entire process of participation more transparent. On the other hand, CSOs are also a legitimate party to this process, as least insofar as some of the human rights (freedom of speech, freedom of association, freedom of of free access to information) are concerned.

The significance of citizen participation in public policy process has been acknowledged not only at the national but also at the international level. The various forms of consultations involving business and CSOs have become a standard practice of major multilateral, intergovernmental organizations, including the United Nations, the World Bank, the Council of Europe (CoE) and the European Union.

There are three levels of cooperation between citizens and public bodies:

Information: A one-way relationship in which the information flows in one direction, from the government to the citizens. It is not a genuine public participation, but the basis for all forms of it. The government informs citizensabout its decisions and initiatives as it sees fit, or citizens extract information at their own initiative. An example of this is public access to documents of public significance, an official gazette, and the government's Internet pages. Public participation methods might include: leaflets and brochures, mailings, use of the media (press releases, press conferences), information centres, repositories (other than for example libraries and city halls), travelling exhibitions, information hotlines, contact persons, open house, field trips, briefings, internet and other ICT tools, cultural events (especially for raising awareness).

Consultation: The government seeks feedback from citizens in the process of shaping public policy. It is a two-way relationship in which the government determines participants in order to receive sound feedback. The government ensures that citizens are provided with pertinent information in advance. An example of this type of relationship is comment to draft laws. Public participation methods might include: reply forms, opportunity to comment in writing, public hearings and meetings, interviews, opinion polls, stakeholder analysis, gaming, internet discussions, advisory commissions/board, focus groups.

Active Participation: A higher degree of a towo-way relationship in which citizens are actively involved in shaping public policies, such as through membership in working groups commissioned to prepare a draft law. The improved collaboration with citizens and other social actors does not release the government from its ultimate responsibility to choose and implement a particular public policy. Public participation methods might include small group meetings (workshops, coffee meetings, roundtables, study circles, brainstorm sessions, planning cells etc.), large group meetings involving splitting up into smaller groups and/or rotation between subgroups (e.g. working groups, open space meetings), virtual internet discussions.

Regardless of the form of cooperation, any mechanism of citizen participation must identify not only key private stakeholders but also key state actors in the process along with their prerogatives and duties to that effect. Especially, it must respond to the question of whether the primary partners of citizens, CSOs and other private actors is the government (i.e. the executive branch of power) or parliament (i.e. the legislative branch of power).

In addition, a mechanism of citizen participation needs to respond to the question of whether the framework of participation should apply to central levelof governments, or whether local governments should be included in the process too. A response to that question will depend on a number of factors- including the scope and the ambit of power of the local authorities in a given country. However, as a matter of good democratic practice, a framework of citizen participation should pertain to oth central and local authorities. Finally, a framework for citizen participation also needs to identify instruments governing citizen participation.

Designing and implementing a public participation process presents a multitude of challenges for public administrators and their service providers. Questions relevant to the design and implementation of any public participation process include, for example, the following:

  • Who is the public for a given decision, which groups should be invited to participate in order to ensure representation, and how can the interests of disadvantaged groups/communities be elicited?
  • Which participation techniques are most appropriate in a given situation in order to obtain public input e.g. notice or comment, face-to-face discussions, workshops etc.
  • At what stage in a particular decision-process should the public be involved and how much technical/preparatory work should be undertaken prior to such involvement?
  • What type of information needs to be available to ensure meaningful participation and to fulfil the public's right to know.
  • How can participation processes become more efficient, while remaining open and transparent, recognizing the limited resources of government and stakeholders?
  • Which skills and capacities would need to be developed to ensure that participation processes are professionally managed and implemented, thus enhancing the trust of the public? What skills are necessary to become reliable, professional advocates?
  • How can government ensure that stakeholders are satisfied with procedural aspects of the decision process while recognizing that disagreements may exist concerning the substance of the final decision.

The main issue for government is to identify those methods which accomodate best the decision process at hand and which can be effectively  implemented with the available resources.

There are a number of issues that need particular consideration with regard to a regulatory framework for citizen participation:

1. What kinds of consultations are feasible, given the circumstances (information, consultation, active participation)?

2. Should an instrument governing public consultation be legally binding (or other general regulation) or would a 'softer' instrument such as a code better serve the purpose?

3. Should an obligation for public participation entail only laws, or also other general acts or any public policy document?

4. Should an obligation for public consultation pertain to executive bodies (consultations during the dtafting process- ex ante consultations), or to legislative bodies (consultations after the draft is submitted to Parliament- ex post consultations), or both?

5. Should an obligation for consultations pertain to the state bodies only, or should it also include local goernments?

6. Who is the other party in consultations: citizens, various forms of CSOs, and corporations? Or citizens and CSOs only, including association of employers

7. Is it necessary and justified to introduce minimum and broader scope of consultations with different deadlines?

8. Is it necessary and justified to stipulate exemptions to the public consultation obligations?

9. What sanctions for the breach of consultation obligations will appropriately reflect the legal nature of an instrument chosen to govern public participation?

AALEP's objectives are the following:

  • To encourage the adoption of rules governing public participation and to contribute to creating an enabling environment for public participation and advocacy in particular in the emerging countries
  • To help build the necessary advocacy skills through trainings, workshops, conferences and written materials
  • To provide expert advice, training, awareness raising to foster active public participation in the legislative process for the development of both legislative frameworks and the underlying capacity of stakeholders to monitor and advance their legislative and policy interests with government and legislative bodies.
  • To facilitate the exchange of cross-border expertise




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